Macedonia: Its Races and Their Future
H. Brailsford

V. The Bulgarian movement

1. First Impressions of the Bulgarian Character
 

A TRAVELLER'S first impressions of the Bulgarians of Macedonia are rarely favourable. It is a race with few external attractions; and it seldom troubles to sue for sympathy, or assist the process of mutual understanding. It is neither hospitable nor articulate. The Slav peasant has no passwords to the foreigner's heart. He cannot point, like the Greek, to a great past; he cannot boast that his forbears have been your tutors in civilisation. He leaves you to form what opinion of him you please, and shows himself only in the drab of his daily costume of commonplace. He will not call on you unbidden at your hotel, or invite you to his schools, or insist that you shall visit his churches. And, perforce, you study him from the outside. You find him dull, reserved, and unfriendly, for experience has taught him to see in every member of an alien race a probable enemy. He lacks the plausibility, the grace, the quick intelligence of the Greek. He has nothing of the dignified courtesy, the defiant independence, the mediaeval chivalry of the Albanian. Nor has he physical graces to recommend him; and even the women are unprepossessing. He has no sense for externals, no instinct for display. If he is wealthy he hoards his wealth. If he is poor he lives in squalor and in dirt. His national costumes are rarely picturesque, his national dances monotonous, his national songs unmusical. You may learn to respect his industry, his vast capacity for uninteresting work; but it is all the toil of the labourer, and the spirit of the artist and the craftsman is not in him. He erects


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against you a bulwark of deceit. He treats your every question as a snare into which he refuses to enter. Either he answers with feigned stupidity and an assumption of ignorance, or else he seeks to divine the response you expect, and proceeds forthwith to give it to you with no thought of its relation to the truth. It is not exactly lying as we understand it. Rather the peasant has no conception of a frank relationship with any superior. He has been demoralised by dealing with masters who are childish and capricious as well as tyrannical. His vices are the mean habits of the down-trodden, and if in any capacity you have need of courage or honesty or fidelity, it is the Albanian and not the Bulgarian whom you will employ. You may learn to view these faults in a true historical perspective. You may bring yourself to think of them rather as the shameful evidence of the conqueror's wrongdoing than any proof of original depravity in the conquered. The more you learn the more you will incline to a kindly pity, but at the first you are hardly likely to admire this stolid and unprepossessing race. Time and accident alone bring the clue to a different reading of its character. [1]

It came to me by chance in the silent streets of Macedonian towns this occult and difficult clue. One hears in them neither music nor laughter. The peasant trudges silently in, his wife some paces behind him, and speaks only to chaffer at the bazaar. The townsman is too busy in dodging spies and stepping over dogs to break the melancholy silence. And yet, as the winter went on, a plaintive melody began to detach itself from the dull background of depression. I hardly heeded it until one evening I heard it at the fireside of a Bulgarian house. I can think of nothing in my experience more homely, more complacent, more comfortable than that family circle with the plain daughters, the shy son, and the fat parents in undress. It was an atmosphere of crude materialism, and nothing seemed more

1. Another reason why the Bulgarians of Macedonia seem so unattractive is that all their best men are exiles in free Bulgaria. There is no educated class left to leaven the rest, or to represent the nation to the traveller.


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distant than ideas, more remote than revolution. And then, suddenly, they sang it, the plaintive air of the streets. It brought a fire to their eyes, a resonance to their voices, a blush to their phlegmatic cheeks. It was a song of revolt. It summoned the young men to the hills, chid the old laggards who "sit in cafés" celebrated one by one the chiefs who had fought and died in the autumn, and prophesied a future of freedom. From that evening onward the air was always in my ears. Sometimes it was a schoolboy who whistled it in the streets; sometimes a group of young men who chanted it, with all its daring words, within earshot of a Turkish sentry. It mingled with the tread of armed patrols and the rumble of ammunition carts. It challenged the night-watchman, and insulted the Pasha's carriage. Let the Turks be never so busy with their ostentatious precautions, their endless mobilisation against the coming campaign, this song of defiance was always in the air, mocking their dull wits and their useless preparations. They neither heard nor understood, foreigners that they are in their own country. It played about their ears unheeded, like a song of doom, sung by the land itself. And here at length was the real rhythm of the Bulgarian heart. Henceforward the lies and the silences mattered little. One could overhear this inarticulate people talking to itself. I was amid a race that was organising itself for freedom. It leads a double life, caring little for the ugly, unimportant present in which it suffers, intrigues and compromises, postponing its greater qualities for the future it has resolved to conquer. The insurgent movement is in reality a genuine Macedonian movement, prepared by Macedonians, led by Macedonians, and assisted by the passionate sympathy of the vast majority of the Slav population. There is hardly a village that has not joined the organisation. In the larger towns, like Monastir, there are few individual Bulgarians who are not active and willing members. Ten and twenty years ago the children in Macedonian schools, trained to render the Sultan's hymn for the benefit of official visitors, were taught in secret a pathetic song, "to the honour of him, whosoever he may be, who shall be our liberator."


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To-day that song has given place to ballads of achievement which tell how Delcheff or Svetkoff gave their lives in open fight for an unfurled banner.
 

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